“But it will come about, if you listen attentively to Me,” declares the LORD, “to bring no load in through the gates of this city on the sabbath day, but to keep the sabbath day holy by doing no work on it, then there will come in through the gates of this city kings and princes sitting on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their princes, the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and this city will be inhabited forever. ~ Jeremiah 17:24-25
What does it mean to keep the Sabbath? This passage hits home for me this weekend, as I am on a rare weekend business trip. Today is Sunday and here I sit in a Chicago-area airport hotel preparing to travel home. The timing of my return flight early this afternoon juxtaposed against the worship schedules of local churches is keeping me from worship. Can I still honor God in this situation?
In this passage God tells Israel that they must rest on the Sabbath; doing so carries a promise of blessing while ignoring this command carries a consequence: “But if you do not listen to Me to keep the sabbath day holy by not carrying a load and coming in through the gates of Jerusalem on the sabbath day, then I will kindle a fire in its gates and it will devour the palaces of Jerusalem and not be quenched.” (17:28)
Keeping the Sabbath day holy is the third of God’s Ten Commandments delivered through Moses:
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11)
Why did God command we keep the Sabbath? He answers that question in the Exodus passage above: God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. Therefore He declared the seventh day of the week to be a day of rest, so important that He made it holy. God knows the needs of His creation; we need to rest from our daily toils. Rest is so important that God commanded we take it.
As I study this question, my mind recalls a show or movie I watched on TV many years ago as a child. I remember the show was set in the 19th century. The family lives in the country. After attending church on Sunday morning, they sit in their chairs at home, Bibles in hand. The family’s children keep asking to go outside and play and the parents repeatedly tell them “no”. It’s the Sabbath and they must rest. The children are miserable. Is that what God intended?
To coin a popular phrase (I almost hate to do this, but in this context I will), “What Would Jesus Do”?
Here are two clues from Mark’s Gospel:
They went into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath He (Jesus) entered the synagogue and began to teach. ~ Mark 1:21
Jesus addressed the Sabbath when confronted by some Pharisees:
And it happened that He was passing through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples began to make their way along while picking the heads of grain. The Pharisees were saying to Him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions became hungry; how he entered the house of God in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the consecrated bread, which is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests, and he also gave it to those who were with him?” Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. “So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:23-28)
Based on these passages, it would appear that the Sabbath has two main purposes: (1) It is a day on which we deliberately take time to focus on the things of God. Jesus went to the synagogue and began to teach. Presumably, there were believers at the synagogue ready to study and learn God’s Word. So it is permissible to travel to the synagogue and exercise our brains in worship and study. On the Sabbath we worship, we study, we pray, we congregate with fellow believers to be refreshed and reenergized through worship and the reading and teaching of God’s Word; (2) It is a day on which we rest from the chores of daily life. It’s OK to tend to and provide for our daily needs. Lightning won’t strike us if we rise from our chair and do something physical. This Sabbath, this day of rest, was not intended to be a millstone around our necks; it is a gift to us from our loving Heavenly Father.
In Jeremiah, God is angry at Israel because they have set Him aside in exchange for a worldly lifestyle in which they seek after false gods. Every day looks the same. The true God has been shoved into the background as they pursue their lives of sin. I can relate to that, can you? God’s stressing to them the importance of keeping the Sabbath is a reminder to all of us that we must deliberately seek Him. We must take time from our daily routine to focus on Him and His Word. Setting aside a day in each week for these purposes – worship and rest – allows us the opportunity to recharge our spiritual and physical batteries so we are equipped to face a world enamored with sin.
As I spend this Sunday morning packing and preparing to fly home, I will do so with holy music filling my hotel room. My plane ride home will be a time of Bible study. I will miss my time of corporate worship this morning, but I will set aside my work today to consider all that God has done for me. First and foremost, I will remember and confess my sins and rejoice in the hope of eternal life in the presence of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Ponder this: Do I take enough time during the week, and even on each day, to consider the things of God?
My prayer for today: Heavenly Father, as I travel home today I pray that You will guard and protect me. Let my mind focus on You and Your Word as I rest from my daily toils. Forgive me of my sins, and help me to honor You with this day of rest. In Jesus’ name I pray, AMEN.